We’ve come a long way since we had to run coaxial cables for token ring networks – most devices shipped today don’t even have a wired network connection. It’s a different story for power, with every nightstand, desk and airplane seat having a USB cable nearby. Israeli startup Wi-Charge wants to change all that by transmitting up to one watt of power wirelessly to devices in homes, offices and commercial locations. The company told me that it had just signed a mysterious agreement with Belkin, to do R&D on product concepts.
I’m not going to lie: I really hope to see the first wireless power device arrive from the accessory maker later this year; wireless power is so lagging it’s not even funny.
Wireless power makes a lot of sense in retail environments, where battery replacement is impractical and electrical wiring becomes very expensive and complicated. Image Credit: Wi-Charge.
The company paints a vivid picture of all the situations where charging cables don’t make much sense, especially in low-power situations where you’d typically use an alkaline battery or rechargeable battery. One such example was an electric toothbrush charger – bathrooms are getting sleeker and better designed, but charger cables are an eyesore.
“I saw a million-dollar bathroom with ugly power cords,” says Ori Mor, Chief Commercial Officer and Founder of Wi-Charge, encapsulating a use case. “When people talk about wireless charging, they’re talking about proximity charging. In 2018, we received a CES Best of Innovation award for charging an iPhone from a few feet away, but it was a bulky transmitter. continued for a few more years to We are finally deploying our technology. We started with commercial applications — we developed a simple LCD display with our receiver inside. There is a wireless power supply with a range of 10 meters deployed in commercial environments.
A power transmitter can transmit to a large number of receivers, and commercial users are less sensitive to price, so Wi-Charge was able to complete a number of trials and test installations.
In restaurants, it can be difficult to retrofit power to every table, but customers appreciate being able to charge their devices. This demo combines wireless table power with Qi wireless phone charging, all without running wires to each table. Image Credit: Wi-Charge.
“In line with our ongoing commitment to providing the best charging experience for our customers, we are excited to discover the full potential of Wi-Charge’s unparalleled wireless charging technology,” said Brian Van Harlingen, CTO, Belkin , in a press release published by Wi-Charge. “The future of charging has been shifting from wired to wireless for years now and we anticipate live wireless charging to accelerate this evolution.”
Belkin, in turn, clarifies that it is fully committed to the transition from wired to wireless and believes in a cable-free charging future. He points out that Belkin’s R&D arm is constantly scouring the world for new and exciting technologies. It evaluates Wi-Charge at the product design stage.
Wi-Charge is understandably enthusiastic about its Belkin connection.
“I can’t tell you exactly what Belkin is launching, which is a shame, because it’s a consumer-centric product. Belkin is super interesting because of several things: it’s a consumer company that’s super aggressive on the calendar, and they picked a perfect app,” Mor explains. “Belkin makes aftermarket accessories to charge other devices, and they make Powerline products, smart home products, and so on. This allows us to give them an unfair advantage for [wireless power]. I think it’s time. Everyone is waiting for wireless power.”
The Wi-Charge team tells me the Belkin link is for one specific product, but there’s a long list of other products in the hopper that would work just fine with wireless power.
The technology itself uses an infrared beam that travels from emitter to receiver, in a targeted beam, rather than covering the entire room. It certainly seems like a better idea than my original take on the technology, which was more like me slowly boiling myself alive in a microwave oven.
“If you have to cover the whole room with electricity, you get an environment that neither users nor regulators will approve of,” Mor says. “We deliver a beam directly to the receiver; 100% of the power that leaves the transmitter reaches the receiver.”
The company initially started out providing four watts of power, but quickly shifted to more IoT-like devices, after the company held a roadshow and discovered companies wanted lower power and a smaller and easier to install transmitter. In particular, devices that sometimes consume more power, but are in sleep mode most of the time, are well suited. Think smart doorbells, door locks, sensors and other smart devices.
“Our lowest power now is around 70 milliwatts, and it can go down to one watt. That means we’re delivering 1,000 times more power than any competitor in the business,” Mor says, saying that technology has a green technology angle as well. “A single transmitter can save 5,000 batteries.”
I challenged the company on its power supply – a watt isn’t much in a world where phones can consume 10 times more when charging wirelessly. Of course, charging a phone with a one-watt charger will always end up with a charged phone, but that’s not the primary use case here.
Wi-Charge imagines a living room where remotes, speakers, sensors, cameras and other smart home devices are powered wirelessly. Image Credit: Wi-Charge.
Let’s go back to the smart lock: the average consumption of a smart lock is of the order of a milliwatt. When it connects to your phone and opens or closes a deadbolt, it can draw a few watts. Incorporating a small battery into the design overcomes this problem: for 23 hours and 58 minutes of the day the battery can be charged, and the 0.15% of the day the lock locks and unlocks the doors, it can rely on the power in the battery. You can also imagine a design where wireless power charges a battery inside a charger, carrying enough juice to charge a cell phone at full speed. When you place the phone on the wireless pad, it charges from the pad’s batteries; when it is out of the pad, it recharges.
The company has raised $50 million over the years – most in the past two years – and employs around 40 people. R&D is based in Israel, while its sales and marketing efforts focus on the United States, Korea, Japan and Europe.
Personally, I have to say that I can’t wait. I want wireless charging everywhere, and let me finally get rid of all those stupid wires.
“You may see at least two mainstream apps this year,” Mor shares, noting that those apps may or may not be related to Belkin.
“Currently, our agreement with Wi-Charge only commits us to R&D on certain product concepts, so it is too early to comment on the timing of viable consumer products,” a Belkin spokesperson said. “The Belkin way is to thoroughly investigate the viability of the technology and perform extensive user testing before committing to a product concept. At Belkin, we only release products when we confirm technical feasibility based on on in-depth consumer insights..”
UPDATE: This story has been updated to clarify that the quote from Belkin’s CTO was provided by Wi-Charge in a press release, and has been updated to clarify that it is a R&D partnership.